Local schoolchildren had the chance to interact with live animals and real robots as part of a project organised by the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) during EU Robotics Week.
Robots vs Animals is collaboration between UWE Bristol, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Bristol Zoo Gardens to deliver interactive sessions on biomimicry and robotics. The project is funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Year 8 students from St. Julian’s School, Newport, and Bristol Grammar School managed robot swarms and observed animal communication in cockroaches and rats.
Comparing animal senses and robot sensors, students learn about biomimicry and the animal stories behind robot designs. The sessions are led by BRL robotics engineers and Zoo education officers, so the students can ask the experts and hear about the latest developments in robotics technologies.
During the session, the students investigated human-robot interaction, learning about why engineers make robots yawn, dance and gesture like humans in order to make the robots more approachable and engaging. Students saw how evolution is shortening the legs of the blue-tongued skink. This helped them understand how robots are evolving – and one day might be able to change their shape rapidly like Transformers.
Project leader Laura Fogg-Rogers said: “Robots vs Animals is an exciting collaborative project designed to inspire and enthuse young people about the possibilities of engineering as a career. Working with Bristol Zoo Gardens, the Zoo sessions demonstrate how engineering can solve real-world problems by taking inspiration from other realms, such as animals in nature.
Each Zoo session has a different set of robotic examples to show how engineering is inspired by nature. The sessions are available for Years 8 and 9 during Spring 2015. The sessions are designed to fit into the National Curriculum for Science and Design & Technology, where students learn about the processes of science, future scientific possibilities and biomimicry. More information on booking Zoo sessions is available here.
The aim of the Robots vs Animals project is to demonstrate engineering as a creative, exciting and innovative field, and encourage a wider range of young people, both boys and girls, to consider it as a career possibility. The project includes school Zoo sessions, a website and a national competition to design an animal-inspired robot.